DEMANDS for a radical solution to Oxford's chronic congestion problems could see a European-style 'shared space' system being introduced to clogged city roads.

Oxford University and Oxford City Council both signalled their support this week for the controversial approach to gridlocked roads, which involves getting rid of traffic lights and allowing vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians to mix together, sharing road space.

Widely used in Holland and Denmark, shared space is said to produce safer, smooth-flowing, low-speed traffic movement.

With roads no longer segregated, the whole approach depends on motorists, cyclists and pedestrians having to behave courteously towards each other.

Oxford University wants a shared space system introduced at the busy Parks Road-South Park Road junction, near the university's natural history museum.

It commissioned the leading urban designer, Ben Hamilton-Baillie, the UK's leading advocate of shared space, to draw up plans unveiled this week to councillors, council officers and university members.

The university believes that if Oxfordshire County Council backs the idea, the trial near the university science area could see shared space extended right along Parks Road to Broad Street. The consultants' report concludes: "This approach could be extended throughout the university area."

The leader of Oxford City Council, John Goddard, has expressed a keen interest in shared space areas being created in the city centre. And it has now emerged that the city council views shared space to be a key component of the multi-million-pound scheme to redevelop Oxford's West End.

Mr Hamilton-Baillie said the university's readiness to go for a bold solution could have major implications for busier areas of the city, such as Frideswide Square.

The consultant, who has advised the city council on the West End scheme, said: "Often something as innovative and new as this makes council highways officers uncomfortable. They would feel exposed if it went wrong.

"It is helpful for an institution like the university to be making the running. Parks Road-South Park Road is the right place. It is not too large, but sufficiently significant for people to see the difference.

"It offers an opportunity to learn lessons and for confidence to be established in this new approach before attempting something on a grander scale at somewhere like Frideswide Square, which is presently a terrible mess."

Ed Wigzell, Oxford University's sustainable travel officer, said the university had acted because it was unhappy with proposals submitted by the county council for the junction. Unusually, the pavement area is owned by the university.

Mr Wigzell said: "We felt a traditional engineering scheme would not suit a sensitive historical environment such as this gateway to the Oxford University area. We told the county council that we were willing to pay consultants, if they were willing to look at the proposals."

He said the university members had been strongly supportive. "Most are saying it is a fantastic idea. Some already want to take the shared space approach along Parks Road and to the Broad Street-Holywell junction." That junction was the scene of a fatal accident involving a student cyclist who was involved in a collision with a lorry in April.

Shared space sweeps away standard highway layout such as traffic signals, road markings and highway signs. Instead surface materials indicate "courtesy pedestrian crossing points".

David Robertson, county council cabinet member responsible for transport, said: "It does seem to make cars drive slower and lead to cyclists and pedestrians taking greater care to reduce accidents. But I'm not sure whether public opinion is ready for shared space in this country. To a large extent we have brought it in with the Cowley Road project."

He feared introducing it in other parts of the city could prove expensive, but he said County Hall would carefully consider the university report.